LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) – Previously, most research pointed to heavy drinking, smoking and other tobacco use, but now oral sex is another front runner linked to 35% of throat cancer cases and 25% of mouth cancer cases, according to Dr. BJ Foch, Administrator and Medical Director for the Department of Health and Hospitals Region 5. The human papillomavirus, or HPV, is the real culprit, but oral sex is one way to contract the infection.
"Approximately 20 million Americans are infected with HPV and approximately 6 million cases occur each year," added Dr. Foch.
You can transmit the virus through sexual intercourse or orally, but some may think oral sex is not a danger.
"Teens don't think oral sex is real sex, but it is and you can catch sexually transmitted infections," said Dr. Foch.
Men and women are vulnerable. Dr. Foch said approximately 50% of all sexually active people will have the virus at some point in their lives. The problem is no exam can truly test for the presence of the infection, said Dr. Foch.
"The majority of people have no visible symptoms of the infection and the body clears it within two years naturally," said Dr. Foch.
He suggests people get vaccinated to prevent contracting the dangerous infection. Gardasil is for men and women and protects against most strains and symptoms of the virus. Cervarix is another vaccine intended only for women that also protects against most strains. Condoms are another method of protection, but he said they are not fool proof.
"The best way is being in a faithful relationship with one partner and choosing a partner who has had no previous partners or very few previous partners," explained Dr. Foch.
Genital HPV if the most common sexually transmitted disease, said Dr. Foch.